This weekend, I attempted my 4th ultra-marathon in 52 weeks, my 3rd in 2015. On my journey to run in all 50 states, I signed up for the Dahlgren Rail Trail 50K in Virginia. From my research, I knew this was a very flat, fast course, run along an old railroad track. This was a 15.5 mile course.
For this race, I had intended to run a 4:30:00 when I first wrote out my training plan 6 weeks ago. I had one solid week of speed and tempo workouts, but then the rest of my training suffered. I worked long days, I felt unmotivated at times, and didn’t feel it on my training runs.
Days before the race, I knew I wouldn’t hit 4:30:00, let alone 4:45:00. So my backup goal was to try and PR(4:54:00.) I would be running a 9:18/mile.
I packed 3 Pro Bars, 2 Clif Kit Bars and filled up my hand bottle with Vertical Maple Water. This was my first race not using coconut water, so I was interested in seeing how maple water treated me.
Race morning temperature was around 67. The race started at 6:30am, my first race earlier than the usual 7:00am start times. 57 runners lined up at the start of the race.
For the first couple miles, the runners stayed pretty close by. Then everyone started separating and started running with smaller groups. I followed one gentleman for several miles because he was going around a 9:15 mile pace.
Most of the track was covered with overgrown grass and plants. Some sections had some big rocks, while most of the track was very runnable, whether on light gravel or dirt. A few railroad ties popped up throughout the course but not very often.
Aid stations were located at mile 4, 8, 12 and the 15.5 mile turnaround. Then when you turn around the same aid stations were at mile 20, 24, and 28. Each station had a few volunteers filling water bottles with water or gatorade, and had their station stocked with plenty of fruit and snacks. Each time I stopped, I refilled my waters and ate orange slices.
The first 10 miles flew by for me. Not once did I have any doubts pop up in my head. My body felt rested and fit for the race. At the turnaround at mile 15.5 I clocked in at 2hrs 22min, right on pace to break my PR. I left the aid station feeling positive and excited to finish the race.
At mile 17, I met and talked to the first runner in the race. This gentleman, in his 40’s, kept up conversation with me for about 2.5 miles. We talked about our running careers and about the race in general. He had ran 27 ultra’s in 3 years. This was his 7th ultra of the year. We separated at the next aid station at mile 20.
I felt on top of the world by then. I had a great conversation and I felt fantastic. My music playlist was keeping me pumped, and I felt that the rest of the race would be a breeze. If only I felt that way the rest of the way…
At mile 22, I started feeling a little tired, physically and mentally. Doubts kept popping in my head, my pace was slowing ever so slowly. I wanted to walk, but I had run 22 miles without walking. I promised myself to run to the next aid station which was 2 miles ahead at mile 24. I made it the aid station and was feeling a little fatigued. I was just under 8 miles to go.
I told myself I would run to each aid station without walking. At mile 25, I walked for the first time. My feet were hurting, and self doubt kept running through my mind. I walked for about 90 seconds and then continued running. I lasted another 5 minutes or so, then stopped and walked again. I kept this up for the remaining miles.
At mile 27, the gentleman I ran with earlier caught up to me. He was taking the run/walk approach for the remaining miles. I was still on track to beat my PR, but not by much. Again, I ran for a few minutes, then stopped to walk. By mile 28, and at the last aid station, I knew I couldn’t beat my PR. I would have had to run the last 4 miles at a 7:15 or so pace, and I was struggling to run a 9 minute mile.
At mile 28, around the 4:15:00 mark, I thought long and hard about my race. For a very short moment, I was down on myself, not being able to accomplish my backup goal. I didn’t train well, more so undertrained for my goal I had in mind. But I quickly changed my mindset.
The course was beautiful, the temperatures couldn’t have been better for August in Virginia. All the runners were very friendly, and I was about to complete my 4th ultra in a year. I felt blessed to have the time and money to attempt this 50-state challenge.
I’m not going to run my best every race. I know what I did wrong and I hope to improve on it for my next race. This 50-state goal is very tiring, time consuming and expensive, but I’m enjoying the experience.
I crossed the finish line at 5:03:00, 9 minutes behind my PR. 17th place out of 57 runners.
I couldn’t have been happier with how the race was organized. The course was well marked, the aid station volunteers were very friendly and cheerful. I highly recommend this race for anyone’s first 50K.
Physically, I felt fit enough. I was tired closer to the end, but overall I was happy with my fitness. My mental state needs some work. I really need to work on my inner self and to try and eliminate as much self doubt as possible.
I really enjoyed sipping on Vertical Maple Water instead of coconut water. I never got cramps and felt hydrated. The water was extremely smooth, light, and just a tad sweet. What I loved about the maple water was when I’d spill some on my mouth from drinking it, I didn’t get sticky With coconut water, my mouth and chin would get sticky, but with Vertical Maple Water, I never got sticky. I think I’ll continue to use maple water instead of coconut water for my next race.
My next race will be October 24th in Tennessee. I’ll be running the Firewater 50K.